The Poetics of Democracy: Images and Counter-Images from the Spanish Transition originates from research undertaken in 2008 by the Museo Reina Sofía’s Department of Collections, the objective being to vindicate the artistic experiences excluded from the institutional discourses of the history of Spanish art of the 1970s. This change of perspective has given rise to new narratives and to the incorporation of new material into the Spanish cultural heritage that, combined with a recovery of the political element so instrumental to the Spain of those years, permits the evocation of events in which different artists (and the supports and media they used) left their studios, shared in a community, and took their work beyond objectuality.

With this exhibition, which puts the accent on participation, revindication, and collective action, the museum is giving visibility to this research process—which was carried out over a decade—to recall a period when, alongside civil demands for democratic liberties, social justice, and self-government, there arose a new aesthetic linked to innovative cultural practices that sought to subvert the order of Franco’s regime and the institutional schemes attempting to inherit it.

In this context, the narrative of the exhibition begins with a case study that contrasts with this emergence of a popular youth culture bent on achieving autonomy. The artistic event in question was the 1976 Venice Biennale, whose political importance has yet to be sufficiently studied, since contained within it was a closed and representative discourse of the anti-Francoist art of the time. The vicissitudes, conflicts, dialogues, and theoretical debates that succeeded one another both inside and outside Spain during the organization of the Biennale functions as a metaphor for that tumultuous period in Spanish history, when the transition was taking place from a forty-year military dictatorship to a democracy. This period, which tends to be regarded by historians as a moment marked by consensus, was nevertheless traversed by a great many challenges, disagreements, and contradictions, and these accompanied the new institutional officialdom that was starting to take shape at the same time as that Biennale.